Revolution: A New TV Series About Extreme Suburban Homesteading

This review is by Erik, but Kelly has a few comments of her own to make, in the form of end notes.

A few weeks ago I spotted an ad on the side of a bus that appeared to show a number of good looking people armed with crossbows and wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape. For you, our readers, I broke my ten-year TV show fast1 to find out what this was about. The show is called Revolution and you can view the pilot episode here.

Plot summary

The first scene begins in a flashback as a man frantically downloads the contents of his computer to a flash drive just before Mahmoud Imadinnerjacket causes a big electro-magnetic pulse.2 Said EMP knocks out all the power, iPhones, cars and jumbo jets in the entire world. Fifteen years pass, civilization reverts to an approximation of our first book The Urban Homestead, and we pick up the story with the now grown-up daughter of the dude with the flash drive.

One groovy HOA

The daughter lives in a suburban development. All the home owner’s association rules have been relaxed allowing for growing front yard corn fields, potatoes in tires, chicken coops and even keeping a couple of horses all in a suburban cul-de-sac.  In reality, HOAs would never cave in so quickly even in the face of starvation. But I digress.3

Did the screenwriters visit Farmlab?

Imadinnerjacket’s EMP killed all the normal-looking people, leaving behind only fashion models (with perhaps the exception of one Falstafian ex-Google employee). They have smashing wardrobes, too.4 And America’s long lost archery skills have apparently been miraculously revived.

Come to think of it, Hollywood seems to be having a love affair with archery of late. Is the javelin next? Put down those Xboxes kids and start practicing! In Revolution it’s also revealed that people suddenly know the names of plants and what to do with them even without access to Google.

But the tranquil suburban homesteading is not to last forever. An insurance adjuster turned warlord’s assistant comes to town to kidnap the heroine’s dad and get his hands on all the cool mp3s on that flash drive. A shootout ensues. Dad is killed and heroine’s brother is kidnapped by the militia. 

Our heroine must then make a pilgrimage to Chicago to find her uncle and rescue her brother. Her uncle turns out to be running an artisanal cocktail operation in a derelict hotel that has, as most post-apocalyptic films have, an endless supply of either beeswax or tallow with which to keep hundreds of torches lit 24 hours a day. 5 We find out that the uncle possesses secret ninja skills–having, apparently, spent the past fifteen years working on both artisanal cocktail recipes and kendo.

Meanwhile the brother is temporarily rescued by a lone woman living in a tidy plantation house who is able to calm the kid’s asthma attack with a 15 year old, fully functioning asthma inhaler. But then the evil insurance guy comes a knocking and hauls off the kid. The lone woman then heads up into her heavily locked attic, logs into a Unix terminal, and taps out a message warning about the militia’s visit. So now we know that some people still have access to power–and to the Internets!

The pilot ends with a visit to the handsomely appointed campaign tent of Madison, the head cheese warlord who, at the beginning of the show, it is revealed has something to do with the flash drive with all those cool mp3s on it.

What does it all mean? 

The “ring”, the talismanic object in this Lord of the Rings cycle is a flash drive, the contents of which, presumably, we’ll find out about in a later episode. I certainly hope it contains 100 of the funniest viral cat videos. Curiously, it’s also a flash drive that seems to generate its own power.

That the redemptive object in Revolution is a technological one is not surprising giving our culture’s biases. John Michael Greer. in what I think is the most important book on our current crisis, The Blood of the Earth, writes about how our culture is blind to the fact that our problems are political, social and spiritual and not solvable by technological/scientific means. No amount of corn ethanol or switchgrass will stave off the fact that the earth has a limited amount of resources. But, in the stories we tell ourselves, magical flash drives can still save the day and maybe even power the whole world.

It’s also telling that the voice over in the opening credits of Revolution reflects a fundamental confusion between an energy source and the means by which it’s delivered, “We used electricity for everything–even to grow food,” says the narrator. “Electricity” is not how we grow our food. Electricity is generated from finite sources, primarily coal and natural gas. And we use a lot of oil, of course, to grow our food.

Our technology, especially the internet and smart phones has radically externalized what used to be  collective and individual cultural memory. It’s notable that this story places so much value on a flash drive as a repository of knowledge that used to be inside our own skulls.

The delusional aspects of the pilot episode gives me great pause for the future of this country. But without seeing the rest of the series it’s too early to deliver a final judgement. It will be interesting to see if the flash drive has the same corrupting influence as the ring in both Tolkien and Wagner’s stories.


Kelly’s interjections on the show’s summary. She’s not touching Erik’s editorializing:

1Lest you think Erik is some virtuous, Thoreau-type character, I’ll just say that he may not watch series TV, he does watch movies and documentaries and youtube cat videos in plenty.

2They did not actually say why the power went out, or who was responsible.

3The opening scenes showing the subdivision “village” was the best thing about the whole pilot. There were lots of nice details, like stacks of rain barrels and tire planting and a hose running through a window into a sink.  I found myself wondering what sources of information the writers were using (other than our book, of course.). Certainly Kunstler, both his rants and his fiction (which is a form of rant, imho) but also it reminds me very much of a book called Dies the Fire by SM Stirling, where all the tech goes out in one day and the world is remade by SCA and pagan types.  I don’t think the SCA and pagans will get any play in this show, but the overnight tech-loss is completely Dies the Fire.

4These people look really good. The girl’s leathers are artfully patched and oh-so-Katniss. Others have unpatched, fresh looking clothes. I can almost buy this because if there was a fast, massive die-off, maybe there were lots of clothes left in the stores. Maybe even 15 years worth. (Maybe? I’m suspending my disbelief.) What I have a harder time believing is the hair. Both the men and women look like they’re all getting daily blowouts. No one is scarred or pocked or beset by unsightly skin growths. And I’ll say in his defense that the Google guy may not be fashion-model thin, but he’s not bad looking. 

5The overuse of candles by lighting designers in any post-apocalyptic setting is a major pet peeve of mine.  Erik is mentioning this here because he had to listen to me go on and on about it while we were watching the show. Those torches! What in the heck are they burning?

Toby Hemenway On How Horticulture Can Save Us

What I like about author and permaculturalist Toby Hemenway is that he does a lot better job, frankly, of explaining permacuture than do the founders of the movement, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Hemenway is a better writer and demonstrates how permaculture’s abstract designs principles can apply at the household and neighborhood level. His book, Gaia’s Garden, A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture ought to be on everyone’s bookshelf.

Last Thursday at the National Heirloom Exposition Hemenway gave a talk entitled “Redesigning Civilization: How Horticulture Can Save Us.” What he meant by “horticulture” is not, say, propagating begonias. Rather, he defined horticulture as gardening, the kind of gardening some indigenous people did when they influenced the landscape to produce useful and edible plants. In other words, what we in the West would call permaculture. This is in contrast to agriculture which Hemenway considers to have a destructive influence on ecosystems, human health and culture.

Hemenway also, justifiably, critiqued some corners of the urban homesteading movement for promoting an egocentric self-sufficiency–“MY food on MY land” as he put it–a kind of industrial farming on a household level. While “self-sufficiency” appears in the subtitle of our first book (our publisher’s idea), it’s not a term we use. Kelly and I always emphasize, like Hemenway, the importance of community. We are much more comfortable with the title “gardener” rather than “farmer”. We need farmers, of course, but I’d like to think of urban homesteading as being more about small scale, permacutural type projects that involve both individual and group efforts.

The takeaway from Hemenway’s talk for me was the importance, especially in urban areas, of integrating community in any permacultural design project. After showing what everyone reading this blog knows, that our modern world is in big trouble, Hemenway ended on a positive note. With small scale, thoughtful design we can go a long way to solving some pretty big problems.

Carlo Petrini and Slow Food: A Joyful Revolution

Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini gave the keynote address at the National Heirloom Exposition last Tuesday. For those of you who don’t know, the Slow Food movement began out of protests against a McDonald’s that was slated to open near the Spanish Steps in Rome in the 1980s. Slow Food has since grown into an international organization that promotes food biodiversity and traditional farming practices.

Petrini spoke eloquently and without notes through a translator. He called our food system “entropic,” adding that our agricultural system is, in fact, in a crisis of entropy.  When it takes 300 calories to produce 100 calories of food, according to Petrini, we clearly have a system headed towards collapse. When it comes to the health consequences our out of control food system, he noted the ironic fact that more money is spent on weight loss and obesity than buying food.

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More On the National Heirloom Exposition

Squash tower at the National Heirloom Exposition

Quite honestly, between the lead and zinc in our soil and an endless heat wave that seems to portend climactic disaster, I’ve been a bit dispirited with our little urban homestead project this summer.

The Heirloom Exposition up in Santa Rosa lifted me out of my petty depression. The amazing speakers, exhibits and vendors, left me inspired and ready to get back to work.

This week I thought I would report on some of the many talks I attended as well as share links to interesting projects and products that I saw at the expo.